D.C. locals expect you to look like a tourist: Embrace it. And remember that the city isn’t known as a fashion mecca. When it comes to what to wear in Washington, D.C., it’s hard to make any real style faux pas; it’s more important to be comfortable.
What to Wear in Washington, D.C.
If there’s one cardinal rule for D.C. wardrobe planning, it’s to be ready for extremes. Summertime temperatures and humidity can be brutal, but so can the air conditioning inside museums and other attractions. If you’re going to be going back and forth between the two several times each day, you’ll want to be ready. Here are some suggestions about what to pack for Washington, D.C.
Comfortable Walking Shoes
D.C. is a great city for walking, but your feet may fall victim to its monumental-scale distances. Make sure you have shoes that are up to the challenge. Merrell’s Moab series has been around for years with options for men and women, and its utilitarian comfort just keeps getting better.
Here’s the quick answer to “What to wear in Washington, D.C.?” Anything besides cargo shorts. As one D.C. native puts it: “The fashion aesthetic here is more preppy than fratty. People look like they spend their time on sailboats, not playing beer pong.” If you’re planning on spending any time in Georgetown, this advice holds quadruply true. Consider Prana jeans or casual linen pants as an alternative.
When it comes to Washington, D.C. clothing, a light sweater can be a godsend—especially if you’re trekking the Mall in July and then spending a couple of hours in an air-conditioned Smithsonian museum. If you have a dinner reservation that doesn’t allow time to swing back to your hotel first, the same sweater can transform an outfit you’ve been wearing all day. Here are some comfy options for men and women.
Wide-brimmed, crushable sun hats can be surprisingly hard to come by, but they make your life a whole lot easier under blazing summer skies. This men’s hat from Wallaroo does the trick with UPF protection, while women might like Comhats’ crushable option.
If you’re planning outdoor activities and the forecast calls for rain, consider investing in a solid rain jacket. Patagonia’s Nano-Air Jacket for men and women doesn’t come cheap, but neither will it let you down when you need it most.
When you’re trying to figure out what to wear in Washington, D.C., it doesn’t hurt to choose something that suggests that you miss the Obama administration. You will definitely ingratiate yourself with the heavily Democratic-leaning locals. This “44” T-shirt is a classic.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Washington, D.C. Travel Guide
- 9 Best Hotels in Washington, D.C.
- 10 Best Cheap Hotels in Washington, D.C.
- 6 Famous Hotels in Washington, D.C.
- 8 Fun Things to Do in Washington, D.C.
- 7 Washington, D.C. Museums You Haven’t Heard Of
- 9 Best Day Trips from Washington, D.C.
- 9 Best Restaurants in Washington, D.C.
- The 10 Best Spots for Brunch in Washington, D.C.
- The 10 Best Washington, D.C. Food Trucks
- What to Pack for Washington, D.C.
—Original reporting by Matt Jenkins
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.
We hand-pick everything we recommend and select items through testing and reviews. Some products are sent to us free of charge with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions and do not accept compensation to review products. All items are in stock and prices are accurate at the time of publication. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.